In the on going debate over the future of digital music, one of the aspects of the debate that I have anointed myself guardian of, at least in our blogging circle, is the decline or eradication of the album format as a result of the emerging technology (links to history here
, and here
). Others have spoken more eloquently on the topic of ethics, business opportunities being/not being realized, convenience of technology, and intellectual property law, etc... all of which are interesting to me, but the threat of demise to the album concept is of my biggest concern for a number of reasons. Obviously, readers and friends alike all seem to have some thoughts on the above mentioned topics, but many seem to have little understanding of how important the album concept is to both artists and labels.
One of the arguments offered by those supporters of the iTunes model (.99 cent singles of all titles on every album) is that by allowing fans access to a single song from a record, you tease a listener into wanting more and therefore buying more tunes from a particular release. This practice in really not at all different from the analog model of 45’s and LP’s with the important exception that labels and artists controlled which songs were released as singles, or whether or not to release any songs as singles at all. I have maintained in the past that many artists of today and yesterday would rather continue to release their music in album format for both artistic and fiscal reasons. I also maintain strongly that it is their right to do so, even if it MAY negatively impact overall sales revenue which makes the article I read in this months Rolling Stone Magazine that much more interesting.
In an article titled “The iTunes Holdouts” by Even Serpick, six major recording artists are listed amongst those who have not released their music for legal digital download to iTunes. Some interesting if not validating reasons are offered for their reluctance:The Beatles
– No real explaination is offered, but some facts surrounding the standoff are common knowledge, the Apple Records vs Apple Computers debacle most notably. But there is more that is not front & center with Beatles Inc. here. I would venture to guess that the surviving principles are interested in leveraging all they’ve got to secure higher royalty rate. They may also be looking to keep songs within albums bundled.Metallica
– The anti-download crusaders have inked a deal with iTunes and their catalog will be available shortly. It will be interesting to see what and how they release it.Led Zeppelin
– Zeppelin surviving members “…bristle at the thought of complete albums being broken up into singles”. iTunes REFUSES to allow them to sell complete album only downloads, so nothing is planned in the near future.Kid Rock
– The article hints at what I’ve read elsewhere about his feelings on the subject and those being not far from what the Zeppelin camp feel. The RS article couches the issue, but basically, he would rather sell albums than singles if it’s the only choice being offered.Radiohead
– This product of the tech generation flipped the bird to iTunes when they fed them their singles only policy, so Radiohead released their entire catalog for download as albums and EP’s only to Warchildmusic.com.
I would be willing to bet those listed above who don’t come right out and state it, nonetheless have a big problem with being forced to break up their body’s of work as digital singles and have spoken with their will by turning their backs on iTunes. Fred over at A VC
has spoken at length about the negative impact iTunes and Apple have had on the progression of digital music marketing and I now understand this much better. I still insist that rightly or wrongly, iTunes has created the “I Have A Right To It” consumer mentality that now prevails over digital music and is ruining the album concept, but now I see the enemy as both greedy consumers AND Apple iTunes for not seeing past their bill folds and asking artists and rightful content owners their thoughts on how THEY want THEIR content released. iTunes has a stranglehold for now, but that won't last. I hope outfits like Warchildmusic.com who are more sensitive to artists rights prevail.
That’s not all… In the same issue, Tom (F’n) Petty is interviewed and responds to a statement/question by Neil Strauss regarding his fight to keep album prices down during the 80’s:NS: …Well, services like iTunes Music Store are helping restore the balance.
T F’n P: iTunes is a great idea. It reminds me of when you bought a single for .99 cents, and if you liked that, you bought the album. But it’s not as good for selling, or even acclimating people to the album as an art form. I was up until the middle of the night sequencing this thing (his new record). And I am starting to think, “Who cares? ‘Cause they’re just a bunch of button pushers.” But I’m not giving up my art. I make complete pieces of work, I like to think.
This is the gospel of the lord…
UPDATE: Jason at TRICKSTER! offers some very interesting detail
on the state of music sales. Most notably this:"Despite the staggering growth rates, the unit volume sales for digital downloads still lag CD unit sales by a whopping margin. Soundscan reported 14.7 million digital album downloads for the first half compared to 270.6 million physical albums sold."
Take that Bob Lefsetz...